CHAMPIONING ON: How Greater Bergen is Revitalizing Garfield’s River to Rail Neighborhood District
Renewed hope and pride are palpable throughout Garfield’s River to Rail neighborhood district, thanks to current and ongoing redevelopment work by Greater Bergen Community Action, in association with the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP).
Greater Bergen was designated Master Redeveloper of the 19-city block area adjacent to the Passaic Street corridor, also known as the River to Rail neighborhood district, which was deemed an area in need of rehabilitation.
No stranger to redevelopment work, Greater Bergen dove head-first into its Year 1 plan to revive the underwhelmed Garfield neighborhood, while also having to pivot some of its efforts to address urgent needs brought on by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, one of many things was apparent: the tenacity inherent in Greater Bergen Community Action coupled with the champion spirit embedded in the City of Garfield made for an unstoppable force.
In 2020, Year 1 of redevelopment, the following was accomplished:
· A 110-foot long, interactive mural by world-renowned artist Kelsey Montague as part of her “What Lifts You?” campaign, that adorns the Passaic Street Corridor/Garfield Train Station
· Garfield Wellness Feasibility Study focusing on possible site locations within the River to Rail Neighborhood District. A major impetus for the investigation to determine the feasibility of a wellness center was the severity of pre-existing gaps in service and the negative health indicators among neighborhood residents, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, and great interest from a Greater Bergen strategic health partner, Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI).
· Commercial Rehabilitation Grant Program making significant improvements to the street-facing storefront facades of the properties. Two new businesses opened as a result
· River to Rail Small Business COVID Relief Funding distributed between November 2020 – January 25, 2021. Greater Bergen granted a total of $198,222.85 to 17 small businesses in the River to Rail district in direct Covid Relief Funding. Grants enabled small businesses to pay rental arrears and utilities retroactive to the pandemic start in March 2020. Grantees also were reimbursed for rents paid since March 2020. Many business owners used the grant funding for alternative pandemic related expenses including PPE, expansion to outdoor dining, and POS and technology upgrades.
· Distribution of essential PPE to River to Rail businesses in December 2020. Greater Bergen purchased 750 River to Rail branded face masks and 650 branded River to Rail personal pocket sanitizers at a total investment of $12,207.15. The essential PPE was distributed evenly among district businesses to safeguard their employees and patrons while creating a Covid safe commercial corridor.
· Beautification Projects, that will ensure that a better quality of life exists within the neighborhood. The first initiative placed 44 large self-watering commercial planters along the Passaic Street Business Corridor and commence a planting program to add colorful flowers and plants to the district. The tapered rectangular planters are designed to be non-obstructive to those who use the sidewalk, while at the same time, will add color and vibrancy for all to enjoy during the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
While Year 1 plans were executed and then some, there’s still much more in store for the renewal of Garfield’s River to Rail district – with focuses on quality of life, beautification, community arts, signage, and rehabilitation grants on the docket for Year 2.